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Art Journal: What’s That?

What is an art journal

An art journal is not the same as a regular traditional journal. That's why it took me a while to start using one. I thought an art journal meant that I  had to keep a record of my thoughts, ideas and dreams like people do in a regular journal using art. Since I had no idea how to do something like that, I stayed away.

There are artists that use an art journal to express their feelings but, I however, am a very literal person and I find it hard figuring out how to put my feelings onto a page through art . (I'd love to know how others do so).To me  an art journal is a place where you can experiment with materials and techniques and you get to keep them all your trysies in one bound place to look at over and over.You get to keep adding to various pages as you go on.

When I started working in mixed media I needed a substrate to work on. (A substrate is a fancy name for a background for mixed media artwork) I didn't know about art journals then and didn't  want to work too large or too small so I chose the 11x14 or 11x17 size bristol board. Bristol board is like a hard tagboard and can hold up to wet and heavier objects that are glued down. It comes in a pad and pulls  out  without any rips or jagged edges. (It also can be framed)

The bristol board I use
bristol board

Wait! What's  the difference between an art journal and scrapbook

Before I get into more art journal basics let me explain the difference between an art journal and a scrapbook. This is not a wikipedia  definition but, my own. As I see it  scrapbookers use a large amount of photographs for their pages. Scrapbookers like their pages to all look beautiful and they used lots of packaged embellishments to make them pretty.

Art journalers on the other hand do lots of experimenting and work on letting go of perfectionism through their art. We are often in the middle of many pages at a time and try out many techniques and materials in our journals. To sum it up: An  an art journal is more of an experience and is good for all levels of creativity while a scrapbook is a showcase for your life in photographs . So in my view there any more benefits to art journaling than to scrapbooking. (Many of the well known mixed media teachers started out with scrapbooking and ended up in mixed media journaling because of its many benefits)

The Benefits of Art Journaling

  • Art journaling is a fun, creative activity
  • It can help (if you choose) to document your daily life and experiences
  • It is a safe space where you can create without worrying about anyone looking and criticising what you did
  • There is no wrong or right way and each journal is unique
  • It helps you process your thoughts and your feelings in a safe way
  • It contributes to your artistic proficiency if that is the way you want to go
  • It allows you to take more risks allowing for more personal satisfaction
  • Ar journaling  also allows you to explore new mediums, approaches and techniques  in a place that you can come back to to see  your progress, to see which ideas you would like to take further, and to add to old pages.

    ​Seth Apter, a well known mixed media artist (and probably one of the only male ones around that I know of ) says that  the same way there is an expression to "dance like nobody's watching", apply it to journalling..."journal like nobody's watching"

    Which art journal books are the best

It was only as I got further involved in mixed media that I graduated from using bristol board to real art journals. When I first heard about art journal pages I did not like the idea because I thought that​ it would take too long to dry and I wouldn't be able to work on anything else while it did so. There are however,  a few workarounds for that.

Firstly I bought 2 different types of art journals (shown below) so that I could move between 2 of them as one page dried. Secondly I bought a blow drier to dry my pages. If you'd like you can buy a more standard heat gun  which will help you dry your work quicker.

dylusions art journal
canson mixed media art journal

The 2 journals I use are very different from each other. The Ranger one is easier to do a full 2 page spread as there are no wires in the middle but, the Canson  one makes it easier to do a full individual page plus it turns easier.

The reason I started to love using these art  journals instead of the loose bristol  pages is because  all the work  is in one place and I love leafing through to see what I've done in the past. It also allows me to go through and add markers and pens to pages as I look through them.

When I was using the bristol pages I also felt more committed to making "pretty" pages and wouldn't experiment as feely.

 I actually was inspired to start an art journal after I bought Pam Carrikers books Creating Art at the Speed of Life. I decided I wanted to use a journal but, had no idea how to start. Her book gives you 30 days of ideas of  journaling prompts, so it took away the fear of beginning. (Below was my first journal page)

first spread of first art  journal page

For a while I was a bit obsessive about following her prompts until I got to some pages that I didn't feel like doing . This allowed me to segue into doing an art journal where I try out all types of techniques and activities without following one book or program.

Art journal ideas

To give you an idea of the types of activities you can do in your art journaling I put together a list with pictures of some of the pages I have in my journals. There are so many journaling ideas that they could not in any way fit into one post about art journal basics.

In the list below is the basic activity with a short description and a picture. I will be going into more detail in future posts.


Painting with watercolors, acrylics and trying out all sorts of techniques with them. This one was a wash of watercolors with wax paper scrunched on top when wet.

textured page with saran wrap

​Practicing drawing faces

I've been learning to draw faces using Pam Carrikers book on mixed media portraits 

​Observational drawing

Any kind of observational drawing goes in a journal and you can incorporate it at a later date into another piece


I created shapes with basic stencils and doodled inside the shapes

abstract page made with templates


You can use all of your markers and pens to just color away without having to resort to  coloring books

pink and purple coloring scheme


There are so many ways to try different lettering along with different types of markers.

alphabet written with gel and glaze pens


Pick a quote you like. Letter it and  embellish it

qote on watercolor background


I used a combination of store bought and homemade stamps, to create this image which kind of tells a story but, there doesn't have to be a story just practice using your stamps.(I have a completed post on rubber stamping as well)


These were homemade stencils that I used to create this sunset piece.(and here is a full post on stencil art)

sunset sky with silhouettes of bridge and bike and birds

Collage with ephemera & other random items

Ephemera is your junk mail, receipts, letters, lists that you can use to make art with. The first spread was done with ephemera and markers while the second spread was a random collage using doily pieces, painted paper towels, gold napkins and markers. (I don't think its finished yet but, my post on collage art is)

epehmera background
random art journal page with collage

Art Journal Supplies

To start art journaling you do not need an exhaustive list of supplies to buy. Once you get into it in a serious fashion you will find the thousands of materials out there beckoning to you anyway.

Here are some basics for you to get started and as you go along you can add to your stash. These are only suggestions and you can of course, use any substitutes you may have lying around.

  • Art journal: either a Rangers dylusions or a Cansons Mixed Media
  • Cheap  craft paint (start off cheap, you can always buy up)
  • Paintbrushes (You can start with cheap ones and then upgrade at a later date)
  • Gesso (Its like white paint but, thicker. Allows you to cover over mistakes and start again)
  • Matte medium (Works like a glue, great for collage)
  • Markers...This is so subjective. I'm always buying new types of markers and pens so I would start with what you have or can get locally.
  • White gel pen- This is the best white pen around that writes over dark colors. The gold one is also great
  • Scissors

You also should be collecting things that you will want to use for collages and part of your journals.

  • Old mail
  • Magazines
  • Doilies
  • Candy wrappers
  • Ribbons from gifts
  • Mesh bags from fruit
  • Styrofoam pans from meat and vegetables
  • Etc.

To get you moving I am going to give you some journal prompts to get you started. Prompts are simple nudges to get you over the hump of a blank page. There are literally hundreds of prompts available but, I won't overwhelm you and will just give you a few to start.

Art Journal prompts

  • Lay your hand down on a page and trace around it. Add to it, color it, add another hand...
  • Print a word. Any word you like. Laugh, happy, fear etc. Add collage materials and markers to enhance that page
  • Draw a square, make a grid & fill each square with a different type of doodle, Lines, circles, spirals etc.
  • Choose a symbol like a star, a heart, a spiral, a zig zag and repeat it all over the page. Then connect them all to each other.
  • Cut out images form a magazine, paste one or two on your page and paint and doodle around the images.
  • Make a page with reds/whites and pinks. Use paints, collage materials & anything else you have.
  • Doodle with what ever writing materials you have and fill an entire page with your doodles.
  • Use your junk mail to cut out pieces and make a scene with it. You can make houses, flowers, birds, trees, etc.
  • Collect items with holes in them. Kitchen utensils, onion bags, strawberry baskets etc. Put them on page one at a time and dab paint thru them. You can a brush or even better, a cosmetic sponge.
  • Write a quote in nice lettering and decoarte the letters and the page around it.

Another tip to get you started is to think about working in themes. You  pick a topic like flowers/birds/cities/circles/color schemes etc and you then create various pieces around those themes.

Another idea is to work on creating backgrounds without finishing them. Creating backgrounds is an activity in itself and I will do a longer post on it at a future date, The point of making backgrounds in advance is that you don't have to think too much. You have fun making the background and you come back to finish it at a later date. Backgrounds are also great for cutting up to use as collage material.

I wrote a quick explanation for how I made each background in order of how they are presented.​

  • I wrote random sentences with watercolor pencil and then washed over it with water
  • Layed lots of color on a plexiglass, spritzed with water and then put paper flat on top of it and pulled
  • Took large bubble wrap, painted over and stamped on the page with it
  • Took 2 colors of paint, put on paper and use credit card to shmush around
  • Painted a light wash and then stencilled different stencils over page
  • Did some gelli printing (will explain at later date)
  • Used a screen to paint through with 2 different colors
  • Another gelli printed background

Art journal background ideas

painted background
background made with deli paper
background with bubble wrap
painted background with texture marks
sponged background

So that's it folks, my art journal basics post or art journaling for beginners. If you have any questions or comments on any of the above, please ask in the comments below.

And please share if you think it's share worthy 🙂

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